Disclaimer: One Piece and its characters belong to Eiichiro Oda.
Warnings: If copious profanity, physical violence, things that mess with your brain, lots of rage, or seeing your favourite character act like an asshole (notable exception being Smoker because he is an asshole) is not your cup of tea, I strongly suggest your read something else. If all that is fine for you, enjoy!
An explosion violently ripped apart the midnight sky and spat an undulating mass of flames and thick smoke upwards. Seconds later, a wailing siren cut through the night.
The effect was immediate. The facility, previously unseen and still, sprang into a frenzied flurry of motion; people quickly swarmed away from the site of destruction, and the building itself shuddered from the force of the blast. And soon, more loud bangs shook the doomed structure, followed by the low rumble of machinery, the sharp staccato of gunfire, and desperate shouts of pain and "Buster Call!".
There was a panicked scramble to evacuate the area quickly. Yet instead of leaving immediately, many stayed within the facility. Valuable research, experiments, technology – all, or as much of it as possible, needed to be protected. Salvaged. Otherwise, everything was wasted.
But there were three concerned about something else entirely.
"Come on – we have to leave now, while everyone is distracted," urged the tall, cloaked figure to his two significantly shorter companions. His left arm hung limply at his side, and this fact did not escape the notice of the smallest person present.
"What happened to your…?" the youngest child began uncertainly.
"Got hit by shrapnel," the man said dismissively. He evidently held other matters at a level of higher importance than his damaged limb. "We have to leave now," he insisted once more.
As the youngest child opened his mouth to speak, the other youth shook his head. The words never came, and the three of them hastily left the chaotic scene. Minutes became hours, and the younger two grew steadily exhausted. But onward they continued, shepherded along by the cloaked man with the bleeding arm.
It was more morning than night – although the dawn was a long way off – when the tired trio reached their destination. A large train gleamed dully from the cold moonlight reflecting off its metallic surface.
"This," the man declared, "is our ticket out of here." He glanced around cautiously before whispering, "Stick close to me, and be as quiet as you can." His two companions nodded mutely and the three of them crept along the length of the train. The cloaked man carefully felt along the metal machine with his right arm, trying to find a way in.
A peal of laughter made the runaways freeze in their tracks. The man pulled the two children close to him and they huddled as far beneath the train as they could. Soon they could hear voices growing more distinguishable as their sources neared, but even with the added clarity, the escapees could only hear garbled fragments.
"… heard… did you see… big… serves 'em right… ready… leave in fifteen… tired…"
The voices soon faded away, but the three dared not move until after they waited for a few more minutes of uneasy silence. The search for an entrance resumed with newfound urgency. Their time was running out, and then their only hope would vanish like the voices…
"Found one," the man finally stated, relief flooding his voice. He hoisted himself up onto the train and pressed his ear warily against the cold metal. Hearing nothing, the man cautiously pulled on the large door. The metal groaned in protest, but the man was persistent. Eventually, the door was opened wide enough for the man to enter, and he did so.
"Him first," the older child said as the man extended his one good arm towards the children. "I can haul myself up afterwards."
Before the man agreed, a louder metallic groan rang through the night. The train started to move. The man cursed and said urgently, "Give me your hands!"
The two children tried, but the train began rumbling louder and the man went further away, and they had to run after him. The older one grabbed the younger child's hand and pulled him towards the man, and they ran as fast as they could towards the outstretched arm, but the train was just out of reach.
The younger stumbled, already tired from his long trek. And the older knew that the two of them would never catch up, and so did the man on the train.
"We're not going to make it," the older child said grimly, "but you can."
Then the man had to stretch out further, because the younger child was flung clumsily towards him. "You can still make it!" the man yelled to the youth left behind, but it was a lie, and all three of them knew it.
"Ace!" The youngest struggled but the man held him back tightly. "ACE!"
And the train accelerated…
"Goodbye, Luffy!" Ace shouted, but the train's whistle drowned out his voice.
And the train kept going… and going… and going… and going…
Ace remembered following the tracks until exhaustion and too many shed tears made him fall asleep. When he finally awoke, the sun was up, the train was still gone, his eyes were dry, and… he wasn't alone.
"Welcome back to hell," the tall figure declared.
1. the Roman numeral for ten
No one starts a war – or rather, no one in his sense ought to do so – without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.
(Carl von Clausewitz, Vom Kriege)
"Son," Whitebeard said, his low voice gravely.
"… Father," Ace replied, trying to keep the bitterness in his voice hidden.
It wasn't, but neither of them decided to comment.
"What do you need me to do, pops?" Ace asked.
Whitebeard laughed. "The time has finally come," he declared. "Our years of preparation are finally complete. Now, my son, we can finally finish this tedious affair once and for all." He paused. "You cannot fuck this up, am I clear?"
Ace nodded. "Crystal clear," he said dryly.
"You'll be doing what you've always been doing," Whitebeard stated. "You will deceive, you will gain information, and people will die. But after this, there won't be a next time."
"We're going to destroy them?" Ace asked, raising an eyebrow.
"If you don't fuck up," Whitebeard said, a warning of dire consequences laced into his conversational tone. "Talk to Marco. He'll give you the details."
"Who do I murder this time?" Ace said questioningly. His eyes narrowed.
"Talk to Marco, you damn brat," Whitebeard grumbled. "Now get out of my sight immediately before I kill you."
Ace smiled coldly. "Good. That'd give me the excuse to kill you," he said airily.
Whitebeard laughed again, but without a trace of humour. "Carry on, my wayward son, and I'll fucking kill you for real. Leave."
As Ace left, he wondered rather cynically if the ancient bastard would end up dying naturally before he returned.
They called them the Children of the Devil.
Results of Whitebeard's experimentation, they were truly demons. They were manmade weapons, but more resembled men made into weapons: deadly killing machines in the guise of ordinary human beings.
The first Children started off quite harmless. Paltry powers, such as becoming candle wax, being frictionless, things nobody would concern themselves over. But then there were people who could not be cut or shot, people that could transform into beasts, people that could shift into elements that were virtually indestructible… and it suddenly became a problem.
The world government tried to stop Whitebeard from using these biological weapons in their war. It nearly succeeded through its discovery and subsequent bombing of the place where the Children were created. But Whitebeard was clever and managed to protect his research despite the destruction of his facility, and the Children continued to be produced.
It was devilishly difficult to destroy the Children. They were hard to find, and once they were found, hard to eradicate. Even through the discovery of a fatal weakness the Children shared, they were still a formidable military force. It was simply impossible to provide every soldier with seastone to use, and there was no possibility that all of the Children would drown on their own.
Try as it might, the world government could not find a way to eliminate the threat of Whitebeard and the Children. And with another force of revolutionaries trying to overthrow it, the government could not place its entire efforts against Whitebeard and the Children. So the world waited desperately for a miracle.
But the Devil gives no miracles.
The apartment was passable. Sparsely furnished, but then again, he had just moved in. "I've been in worse," Ace said to himself.
Clothes were unpacked, then folded and neatly tucked into drawers or hung on hangers in the closet. Toiletries were placed carefully in the bathroom. Everything had to be in its proper position.
Ace regarded himself in a full-length mirror. I am a worker for the government, he thought. This would take some convincing acting since he was the exact opposite, but Deception might as well have been his middle name. Besides, he had plenty of practice for nearly the same scenario many 'missions' before. He would pull through, like every other time. Next…
I hate Whitebeard, Ace thought. And really, this one wasn't tricky at all; it was completely true. It would take no effort to act like he despised Whitebeard, and Ace looked forward to being able to publicly loathe the conniving bastard without consequence as much as he pleased.
Then came the difficult part.
Delaying the inevitable, Ace examined his reflection. His shorter-than-usual haircut, boyish freckles, and tidy suit made him seem like a trustworthy co-worker. He smiled his best smile. Definitely trustworthy. 'Genuine', even. Ace tightened his tie, straightened his shoulders, then glanced at his watch and decided to practice one last time.
"… I'm ready," Ace said hollowly, feeling everything but.
He was the master of deceit, but this lie would always fail to fool him.
Ace turned around to face the origin of the timid voice and saw a petite woman with thick-rimmed glasses and short black hair. He offered her his politest smile, extended a hand, and said, "Just call me Ace."
"Ah, I'm Tashigi Shigure," the woman said nervously, blushing. She shook Ace's hand and said, "Please follow me, u-um, Ace." The blush turned redder.
She was easy to fool, Ace contemplated. One down, the rest of the government to go.
The two of them walked in silence for a few minutes until they stopped in front of a dark wooden door. Ace noted that it was at the end of the hallway. Must be an important fellow I ended up with, he mused.
Tashigi fumbled with the lock and opened the door. "Your partner isn't here at the moment," she explained, "but he'll be arriving in a few minutes. One of the desks is yours. And, um, good luck," Tashigi added before excusing herself and leaving.
I wish I had good luck, Ace thought wryly while placing his briefcase on the empty desk. He looked curiously at the other desk that was covered with stacks of files. Ace decided not to snoop around (yet) in the folders, even though they may have contained useful information. He didn't need to have suspicion against him at such an early stage in the game.
The office was plain. The person who worked there – a man, from what Tashigi hinted – evidently did nothing but work. No personal touches, no photos of family or friends, no extra furnishings… Just the bare essentials.
Ace glanced out the large window. The view was all right… There was nothing interesting, unless he felt like spying on the office workers in the next building, but that was a waste of effort. He needed to spy on the person who worked in the room he was standing in, not the moron that he could see in the other high-rise who was playing with his stapler.
A small vibration in his pocket alerted Ace to the fact that it was 10:00am.
The door suddenly slammed open, and –
"I'll give you until the count of ten to get the fuck out before I kill you," snarled a large man with two cigars, whitish hair, and a screaming aura of 'piss off, motherfucker'.
Charming, Ace thought wearily.
He hated the number ten.
Everything that went wrong in Ace's life had something to do with it. He wasn't superstitious in any sense, but the number ten was the one thing for which Ace would always have irrational feelings.
He spent the first ten years of his life trapped within Whitebeard's facility. Ace could not remember ever leaving the damn place before he was ten years old. According to Marco, he had been there since right after his birth. Ace had no fond memories of those ten years except for Luffy and Shanks. But that did not last.
It took only ten seconds to lose them. Luffy, who might as well have been his brother. Shanks, the only kind adult he ever knew. And the train tore away his loved ones in the longest and shortest ten seconds of his life. Ace never saw them again.
He cried for ten days before he officially became a member of Whitebeard's 'family'. Ace knew for as long as he lived that he would end up 'working' for Whitebeard. It did not change the fact that he did not want to. But that in turn did not change the fact that he did not have a choice in the matter.
… There were ten… before him. Ace remembered the overwhelming and absolute horror he had felt when he saw their blackened and twisted corpses carelessly piled in a corner…
It took ten hours for him to become a monster – ten agonizing hours that made him scream and writhe violently against restraints that cut into his skin. The unbearable pain had consumed his entire being like a ravenous fire. And in hindsight, it was essentially just that.
He was forced to murder ten people. Ace never forgot any of their faces, their corresponding names, their likes and dislikes, their personalities, their quirks and habits… He hated the fact that he remembered them like friends, because that was what they were before they realized he only grew close to them in order to kill them. Their deaths were bitter and only served to remind Ace daily of Whitebeard's love for cruelty.
Ace became Fire Fist during the later ten years of his life. He was a wanted criminal across the whole world: guilty of homicide, association with Whitebeard, and last of all, existing.
And on October 10th, at 10:00am, Ace discovered that he was about to spend ten months working with one of the top ten jackasses of all time.
"Sorry, I didn't realize that this was your desk," Ace apologized.
"Well now you do, so get your shit off it," the older man growled.
Ace's left eye twitched slightly. Remain civil, he told himself. Remain civil regardless of how much you want to kill him right now.
"What are you waiting for? For your briefcase to sprout legs and move on its own?" said Mr. Soon-To-Be-Defenestrated sarcastically.
Fuck civility, Ace thought decisively. "I'm terribly sorry," he declared with as much insincerity as he could muster. "I was such a fool to assume that the deskwithout paperwork on it was mine, and the one covered with your stuff wasn't yours! Now why didn't I figure that out?"
"Your desk has my work on it because I like keeping my desk clear of crap," the older man 'explained'.
Mildly stunned by his co-worker's combination of utterly illogical logic and complete disregard of common courtesy, Ace exclaimed indignantly, "And who do you think you are, anyway?"
"Smoker," was the snide reply.
"Congratulations, you remembered your own name," Ace said dryly. "I'm Portgas D. Ace and I can't wait until we start working together."
"What kind of fucked up name is 'Portgas?'" Smoker snorted. "Your parents chose it for you?"
The slight twitch returned to Ace's eye. He ignored it along with the strong urge to correct Smoker about his very false assumption. "I'll move my briefcase now," Ace muttered irritably.
"About fucking time, you damn brat," Smoker grumbled, sounding a little too similar to a certain someone Ace was not particularly fond of in any fashion.
Ah, that must be the sound of my patience throwing Smoker out the window, Ace thought blankly. He walked over to his desk and cheerfully knocked over half of Smoker's paperwork onto the floor with his briefcase. Predictably, Ace received a rather intimidating glare that probably would've killed a normal man.
Thankfully, Ace was anything but easily intimidated.
"Well, what are you waiting for?" Ace asked, raising an eyebrow while smiling sardonically. "For your paperwork to sprout arms and pick itself up?"
It was going to be a long day.
"How's your partner?" said the voice from the small black cellphone.
Ace glared vehemently at the wretched thing – imagining a smirking pineapple-head in its place – before returning it next to his ear. "He's a first-class bastard, and you know it," he growled. Hearing amused laughter, Ace hissed, "Damn it Marco, it's not funny!"
"It is… to me," was the mocking retort.
"I'm going to break the damn phone!" Ace threatened, hand already painfully gripping the object in question which was, regrettably, rather resilient against abuse.
"Don't be so hasty, eh?" Marco said, chuckling. "You'll do just fine."
"And how am I supposed to 'do just fine' if I just want to murder the asshole the next time I see him?" Ace asked, irritation clearly audible within his voice. "Last time I checked, corpses don't talk."
"Well, he won't be a corpse," Marco declared with deceptive calm. Then the conversation ended.
Ace hurled the (unfortunately sturdy) cellphone at the wall and it bounced off unharmed. "Ten months," he muttered. One more job, Ace thought desperately.Just one more job. Then the war would end, the government would fall, Whitebeard would leave him be, and Luffy would be safe.
And Ace would finally be free.